Edo's gifts, Review: a melancholy journey into the Tokyo of the past

The manga universe has found a special place in the catalog BAO Publishing in early 2019, with the establishment of Aiken, necklace entirely dedicated to the Japanese comic. From its creation to today, the latter has welcomed an interesting selection of collections of short stories. For example, two works by Hisae Hiwaoka belong to the category: Biscuit flowers, set in the world of the Japanese school, and the dreamlike White Clouds.

However, lovers of the genre have an additional author to refer to in the catalog Aiken: Koichi Masahara. Inspired by the work of the Japanese director Sadao Yamanaka and the author of gekiga Shohei Kusunoki, the mangaka has indeed shaped Edo's gifts, collection of short stories related to the category Jidai Geki. With this expression, the Japanese language indicates forms of narration that offer a representation of a specific historical epoch, generally coinciding with thewas Tokugawa. Consistent with this definition, the BAO Publishing manga accompanies the reader to discover the capital of the Rising Sun at the time when the Japanese revered them not as Tokyo, but with the original name of Edo.

Nine portraits

The snapshots painted from the stories of Masahara immortalize moments of flowing life, fragments of human existences narrated with melancholic atmospheres. Each of the nine short stories proposed in Edo's gifts captures an aspect of Japanese society centuries ago, offering us a window from which to observe the destinies of manufacturers of fans and carpenters, courtesans and cadet children. To populate the stories of the mangaka we find characters of all ages and social backgrounds, committed to addressing the most disparate aspects of existence. Much space is devoted to love, but just as important are honor, pain and the search for one's own place in the world.

If we were to indicate a minimum common denominator for these nine frescoes of paper and ink, in addition to their ability to capture a precise historical context, we could probably indicate the will of the protagonists of to investigate one's real desires and to look towards the future. A man worried about the fate of an unknown child thus shares the same uncertainties as a woman determined to abandon her lover, while stories of reconciliation between fathers and children flow alongside them, of loves that are reborn or recognized for the first time, of reflections on the meaning of honor and revenge.

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Each story is independent and unrelated to the eight that accompany it: united, however, the nine stories compiled by Koichi Masahara offer an effective fresco of a society that has been lost in the folds of time, just as the name of the city where they lived has been lost: in 1868, following great social and political upheavals, Edo in fact replaced Kyoto as the capital of Japan, acquiring the new name of Tokyo.

Dualism

To give expression to its paper scraps of Japanese history, Koichi Masahara uses a at the same time simple and refined. The characters that populate Edo's gifts they are outlined by a few details, with shapes and faces reproduced in their essential elements, with a rather repetitive approach that does not offer much space for the characterization of neither men nor women, whose physiognomies tend to recur with significant frequency.

On the contrary, the environments, both internal and external, are instead reproduced in an extremely accurate way, with great attention to detail. A dichotomy which however is not alienating, but capable of creating a graphic amalgam effective in accompanying the atmospheres created by the narration.

Worth noting is the author's strong preference for using sharp contrasts between black and white, very frequent within de Edo's gifts. By combining shaded areas and illuminated areas, the mangaka creates interesting play of light, particularly suggestive in some of the tables that make up the approximately 200 pages of the volume.

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